Li said that China saw shifting away from fossil fuels was in its own long-term interest, "but I cannot tell you what time we can achieve it, because there's not a format in the world," he said. "I think if developed countries can give us an example, if the global economy can structure to a low-carbon type, that will be helpful for the developing countries to learn the experience and follow the trend."
China's plans call for it to reduce energy intensity — the amount of energy needed for each unit of gross domestic product — and to increase renewable energy to 15 percent of total energy supply by 2020. China also intends to expand the use of biogas in rural areas, plant more trees and expand research in clean energy.
The Chinese delegation was in Washington to talk about China's climate policies and its negotiating position for international climate talks, but not to try to reach any agreement with the U.S., Li said.
"We think that climate change is a global challenge," he said, and that it had to be addressed within the United Nations climate framework. Those negotiations are meant to reach an agreement in December, though some experts predict 2010 is more likely.
State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the meeting was "a beginning, and we'll see where it leads." He added that the Chinese were willing "to really engage on the subject of climate change, and we welcome that."
Elliot Diringer, the vice president of international strategies for the Pew climate center, said the big issues to be worked out are what emissions targets developed countries will set, what developing countries will agree to do and what support developed countries will provide to help them.
"There's quite a distance to go on those," he said.
The U.S. will have a stronger negotiating hand if it makes progress on its own climate plan first, Diringer said.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the chairman of the energy and commerce committee in the House of Representatives, plans to release a draft version of an emissions reduction bill soon.
Obama's budget outlined a plan that would cap emissions, reduce that level annually and set up a system for companies to buy and trade emissions permits. The theory is that companies would have incentives to conserve energy or develop renewable energy.
The president's plan would return most money from the sales of emissions permits to low- and middle-income Americans.
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